Female Future Leaders

In response to bloggers who say I don’t talk about women’s issues very much I thought I’d capitulate and see if I can come up with something that they would like.  Of course if I were to be honest, I’d say the real reason is because the inspiration I felt from the women’s march on inauguration day gave me so much strength.  It was a great way to begin what are likely going to be 4 hard years.

An article that I thought was very well written was a response to post that made its rounds on inauguration day that was no in support of the women’s march.  That response is titled “You Are Not Equal. I’m Sorry.”

Not surprisingly this article elicited a response and I’ve chosen to critique this response for two reasons.  One this article was posted on a website called Future Female Leaders – America’s leading social movement for young conservative women. They have merchandise by the way, and all future female leaders are apparently thin, white, and pretty (and also apparently only two women), but I digress.  I also wanted to critique this article because I found the rhetoric in the article to be full of the very things that tend to harm women.  There are Christian undertones without actually talking about Christianity, there are weak and fallacious arguments that do nothing to demonstrate that there are strong intelligent women out there, and then there is also the beginning sprouts of the Republican establishment philosophy which I am sure will make the author quite popular with the patriarchy and those who wish to be complicit with it.  So feel free to check it out for yourself, it’s called: “Yes, I Am Equal. I’m Sorry You Are Offended By Us Women Who Lack A Victim Mindset”.

From the very start we have one logical fallacy.  The title contains a strawman argument.  If you’re a feminist who believes that women should be equal to men in society, and apparently disagree with her, then you must have a victim mindset.  Apparently that’s what feminists are.

  1. The first point here begins with a misquote and demonstrate that this future female leader is someone who is unable to research well and is willing to take things out of context to argue her points.  Here is a well-researched article from politifact about Sanger’s quote.

“Those who think Sanger wanted black genocide cite the Negro Project. But even their strongest evidence, a passage from a letter she wrote advocating that organizers recruit black ministers for the project, does not come close to proving a genocidal plot.

Sanger wrote that “We don’t want word to go out that we want to exterminate the Negro population and the minister is the man who can straighten out that idea if it ever occurs.”

But her correspondence shows this sentence advocates for black doctors and ministers to play leadership roles in the Negro Project to avoid misunderstandings. Lynchings and Jim Crow laws gave blacks good reason to be wary of attempts to limit the number of children they bore. In Harlem, she hired a black doctor and social worker to quell those fears.”

This should be enough to not take this writer seriously, but since she might be a future female leader let’s move on.

  1. It’s true that we have laws set up that give women equal pay for equal work. But this isn’t at the heart of gender gap in pay.  The wage gap is based not on a straight calculation of pay, but other factors that impact the careers options women have in society. Most jobs if they do give parental leave, it’s only for the women.  What the pay gap is about is demonstrating that we still live in a society where women are the ones expected to shoulder a larger share of the parenting duties in favor of their career.  This impacts the careers they choose, and the fact that they often choose flexibility over pay as a result of this as well.  Women also face difficulties where their assertiveness is not valued, even though for men it would be.  They are seen as a bitch or abrasive.  Asking for raises is such a behavior and is often not looked kindly on in the workplace.
  1. Scientifically speaking, a fetus also isn’t a tenant in a woman’s body who can come and go if it pleases and compensates each month with rent. Also a fetus is NOT the very definition of a human being, which makes me wonder if this future leader has picked up the dictionary.  Look, I know the debate about personhood may never be resolved.  But the fact remains that the fetus takes from the mother in order to live.  It’s not even a symbiotic relationship, it’s closer to parasitic.  Now you can chide me for being unromantic about the most beautiful experience ever, and, believe me, when my son was born it was a beautiful thing.  But I also saw my wife go through pregnancy and I am aware of how taxing it can be, how delicate her life becomes for a mother when something is trying to feed off of her in order to survive.  My wife had very high blood pressure near the end, and was essentially on bed rest.  In the end it is her body, and her right to decide what happens to it. A fetus is not a human being, and if you want to call it that, fine, but consider the woman’s humanity too.  That seems to always get lost on so many pro-lifers.
  1. Not sure what her argument is here. There is an issue about the Tampon Tax.  I could find no evidence of it being taxed more than other items, but there has been lots of research that women pay more for identical products than men.  Whether this is sexism, or price gouging, or both, we can debate, but certainly points to the emphasis in society of female appearance.
  1. She thinks rape and sexual assault is because society lack of morals. And apparently the way to deal with a lack of morals is to carry a gun.  She’s a regular Republican talking point there.  Whether you carry mace or a gun isn’t the point, and it does nothing to solve the moral problem.  People are getting raped.  That’s the problem.  Also why is it society’s lack of morals?  Isn’t a rapist’s lack of morals?  Which as it turns out, tend to be men.
  1. Yes both men and women are objectified. But I think we might be a bit confusion on the issue of proportion as well as the attitudes such things generate toward the different genders. I think there is pretty clear evidence that women are objectified more than men.  An interesting study here demonstrates why that might be.
  1. While it’s true that men are also victims of domestic violence, the one place where this future female leader decided to post a link in support of her argument is irrelevant at demonstrating the women have little to fear, but seems aimed to try to demonstrate that women are more dangerous than men. Overall statistics that look at violence against women demonstrate that women are most often victims (in the U.S. it’s better than in many other countries in the world), and when you factor in things like stalking, and rape, the level of fear that women experience is far greater than what men go through.
  1. Talk about a reductionist argument here. This is about how girls are raised, and treated by others, not meeting them on the street.
  1. Legally guaranteed rights doesn’t mean that oppression goes away. I mean the same laws exist to protect African-Americans but racism still exists.  Of course I suppose since she a future female conservative leader she probably disagrees.  I mean we had a black president right?!  The constitution has guaranteed equal rights for all citizens of India, so the caste system is gone as well!  Millennia of oppression is always instantly wiped out with laws!  Sorry for the sarcasm here, but I couldn’t help it.
  1. Well she doesn’t think that women are less than equal here in the U.S. So not much to say here.  But it’s insulting.  And apparently if you’re a feminist if you’re fighting for the right to legislate your own body you aren’t a real feminist.
  1. Feminism is about empowering women. I know many who have been empowered by the ideals of feminism.  I am not sure where you are getting your definition.  Perhaps you are getting it from the most extreme in the particular group.  Every group has it.  There are those that call themselves feminists who are not after equality but dominance.  These are small amount.  Just as there are small amount of Christians who are the Westboro Baptist Church.  Thus your argument is a fallacy of composition.  And it may be true that many women are afraid to label themselves feminist.  Because labels carry with them complications.  But maybe they are afraid of the label because of people like you who misunderstand feminism.  I consider myself a feminist and am unafraid of that label, because I know what the movement is really about.

And this young lady’s response of course ignores many of the statistics in the first article, and so there is a lot of intellectual dishonesty here, whether purposeful or not.  Look I’m not going to make assumptions about her back ground but if this is the attitude behind our future female leaders, I am going to say no thanks for now.  The fact that you can even have a dream of being a future female leaders is because of this feminist movement that you are denigrating.  Elisa is still young, just a college student.  I hope in that time she will learn more, and most importantly get to know more women.  Not just ones like her.  Really understand what women go through and realize that there are many strong women who don’t consider themselves victims but would steadily oppose her views as I do.  And for her to put down this march is really insulting to so many women.  We have a president right now who is very much a misogynist.  It’s not just about abortion.  It’s about having a leader who normalized sexual assault, and the objectification of women in the way he speaks.  And how that wasn’t enough to prevent over 60 million people to vote for him.  Most of them men.  Women have cause for concern, and the millions of women who marched for the purposes of saying their freedom, their autonomy, their equality, and their humanity should not be belittled.  Especially from a future female leader, who hasn’t done her homework.

So you’ve been persecuted…

church-christian-persecutionLately I have been trying to push my mind to the other side of the aisle on the issue of Christian persecution in America.  I know that for most of my readers you will wonder what for.  Maybe it’s because my mother is a Christian and feels that this is the case and so I always like to take what my mother says with more consideration, because I respect her.  My mom, for instance feels, that forbidding certain Christmas songs to be sung in class is an example of going too far.  The holiday is after all a Christian one and about Jesus Christ.  When she was a pre-school teacher she says that mothers of multiple nationalities didn’t have a problem with it back in the day, so why should it be a problem now?  Then I came across this article that tries to be academic, by Mary Eberstadt, about the situation and was recently in Time magazine.  I have not read her book, It’s Dangerous to Believe (Religious Freedoms and It’s Enemies), but tried to get a more expansive idea of her views by reading a longer article she wrote on religious intolerance.  I do find there are some legitimate cases where things have been carried too far and these are referenced in her articles.  That being said there are some big picture things that I see being ignored in these articles and are typical of many opinion pieces even when written by scholars discussing what Christianity faces in an increasing secular America:

  1. not-persecutedThere is rarely a discussion about why some people might feel anti-religious or anti-Christian sentiment.  Perhaps you are one of the good Christians out there and that’s wonderful, but given the history of Christian oppression in this country and in the west in general, might there not be some reasons for concern?  If we are going to talk about legitimate instances where good Christians were punished simply for a harmless expression of their belief, should this not be balanced against instances where those who claimed they were Christian also caused harm to others?  If we compiled a list of those two types of instances, who would have the most?  And I’m not saying two wrongs make a right, but I’m saying there has to be a more honest discussion, because if Christians fail to understand why might not want their beliefs in the public sphere anymore, then it will appear to others that they are uninterested in taking responsibility for the harm their belief system has caused or how alienating it might make some people feel.  Again, this always brings someone out who says, well if they were causing harm they weren’t really Christians, because Jesus said this or that.  All that is great, but it’s of little consequence to those being marginalized, hurt, or oppressed, when the perpetrator claims their actions are justified by their religious beliefs.  It means your belief system isn’t making friends, and if you truly believe in the peaceful message of your religion it as much your responsibility as anybody else to oppose people wrongly using your religion.  We don’t see this as often as we should, from any religion.
  2. In a transcript of one of my favorite speeches given by Douglas Adams he says the following:

“Now, the invention of the scientific method and science is, I’m sure we’ll all agree, the most powerful intellectual idea, the most powerful framework for thinking and investigating and understanding and challenging the world around us that there is, and that it rests on the premise that any idea is there to be attacked and if it withstands the attack then it lives to fight another day and if it doesn’t withstand the attack then down it goes. Religion doesn’t seem to work like that; it has certain ideas at the heart of it which we call sacred or holy or whatever. That’s an idea we’re so familiar with, whether we subscribe to it or not, that it’s kind of odd to think what it actually means, because really what it means is ‘Here is an idea or a notion that you’re not allowed to say anything bad about; you’re just not. Why not? – because you’re not!’ If somebody votes for a party that you don’t agree with, you’re free to argue about it as much as you like; everybody will have an argument but nobody feels aggrieved by it. If somebody thinks taxes should go up or down you are free to have an argument about it, but on the other hand if somebody says ‘I mustn’t move a light switch on a Saturday’, you say, ‘Fine, I respect that’. The odd thing is, even as I am saying that I am thinking ‘Is there an Orthodox Jew here who is going to be offended by the fact that I just said that?’ but I wouldn’t have thought ‘Maybe there’s somebody from the left wing or somebody from the right wing or somebody who subscribes to this view or the other in economics’ when I was making the other points. I just think ‘Fine, we have different opinions’. But, the moment I say something that has something to do with somebody’s (I’m going to stick my neck out here and say irrational) beliefs, then we all become terribly protective and terribly defensive and say ‘No, we don’t attack that; that’s an irrational belief but no, we respect it’.”

I think this is a very real thing to remember.  Religious beliefs are protected in a way that other ideas are not.  It is a relatively new thing to simply be able to challenge religious ideas.  I think it’s a good thing.  Notice the language that Eberstadt “…a new low for what counts as civil criticism of people’s most-cherished beliefs”.  That phrase itself implies that there are certain rules which apply to religious beliefs that don’t necessarily apply to others.  Now I’m not saying that uncivilized criticism is effective, but you would hardly see a lot of angry protests for uncivil criticism for highly tested scientific theories.  There are no biologists out there claiming there is a war on evolution and complaining about the mean things Christians have said about people who accept the evidence for evolution.  And while I do get upset when I see atheists insulting and demeaning religious people, in the end these are just words.  The past and present is full of less than tolerant reactions by the dominant religion to even civilized criticism which Eberstadt is asking for from others.  So as much as I would like to see people with religious beliefs not attacked personally and only the ideas, this has not been the case historically when religious ideas have been criticized in the past.  Just looking at the past 100 years, the Scopes Trial in 1925 had a teacher jailed for teaching evolution, and it wasn’t until 1966 that the Supreme Court deemed state statutes unconstitutional that prevented teachers from teaching evolution in public schools.  Presidents have to be open about their Christian beliefs to have a reasonable chance to be elected.  Currently 7 states have it in their state constitutions that atheists can’t hold public office.  And while this is clearly unconstitutional, the fact remains that this is a much higher brand of intolerance than that which is being shown towards Christianity.  In such states, trying to fight those unconstitutional state constitutions will simply alienate yourself from voters even more. How many politicians can be openly gay?  How many people of other religions can make it to office in the U.S.?

  1. And finally, it’s a point that many make, how many Christians would be equally sympathetic to the teacher that was suspended for giving a Bible to a student if it was a Koran?  How many Christians in this country would be okay if a coach decided to lead them all in a Buddhist meditation session before a game?  How many people would care if that City Fire Chief was let go if he published a personal book saying Sharia Law is great, even if it didn’t impact his work?  The work of the Satanic Temple has formed to challenge this attitude, and we find that all of a sudden, a lot of Christians don’t believe in freedom of religion, only the freedom of Christianity to go unfettered, remaining unchallenged in a position of privilege.  Now it may be that Christianity is under attack more than other faiths but it is only because it is the faith in a position of privilege in this country.  Most secularists would have an equal problem with any religion enjoying such privileges.  When one faith or ideology is proselytized over others in the public sector, that depends on faith and belief, without evidence, this is a dangerous path to go down.

Can a push from one direction go too far?  Certainly, and we do need people to keep that in check.  Nobody should be persecuted. But losing privilege is not persecution. It also seems there are parallels between the reaction to the loss of Christian privilege as there are to the loss of white privilege or male privilege.  So any conversation about how Christianity is treated should include a discussion about how other religions are treated, and see if they are on equal footing.  And I don’t mean just according to the law, but from a cultural standpoint.  Because even if the law did allow a teacher to give a Koran to a student, I think we can agree that this teacher, even if not punished might be in a lot more danger in certain communities than he would by passing a Bible to a student.

Perhaps a question that might lead to further posts, is how easily can religions be inclusive to other religions and consider them equal if by definition a religion sees their beliefs as the true ones, while others are false?

Creeps and Cat Calls

catcallsI posted the above graphic on my Facebook page the other day and it elicited a good bit of discussion.  I had started writing a response to someone’s comment and it was getting a bit long so I thought I would turn it into a blog post since it goes to the very roots of how I became a feminist.  Actually I would rather say “how I began my journey to become a feminist” because I don’t know if I truly am yet.  It takes a lot of time to overcome social conditioning in a world tilted against half of the population.

It wasn’t until the age of 23 that I had really fallen in love and had what I considered my first serious relationship.  Her name was Anna (well still is) and she was just a wonderful human being.  She announced to me early on that she was a feminist and studied gender sociology.  The word feminist at that time, and even still today, had a negative connotation and I was not unaware of it, but I’ve always been one to go beyond the label to know the quality of the person, but one can’t help but have the only ideas that you know about feminists in your brain, even though I knew that there was no reason for men and women to be treated differently, and so I had no problem having her teach me more.  The fact that she was crazy about me made me feel pretty good about myself because it meant that I wasn’t like other guys and that there had to be some spark of equality in me that made her feel safe.  She taught me a lot of things, but it’s interesting how academic it can all feel.  Not that I don’t take academic research seriously, or even feel a certain level of outrage, but sometimes things don’t hit home until you really see it and it becomes personal.

We were both grad students at the University of Oklahoma and while I had roommates she had her own place and our relationship got to the point where I was spending most nights there.  One night we were fast asleep in bed, when the phone rang, which was next to her bed.  It woke me slightly and I heard her pick up the phone and say “Hello?” A few seconds passed and she once again said “Hello?”. And then after a few more seconds she yelled “Oh my God!” and hung up the phone.  When I asked her what was wrong she said it was a guy on the other end of the phone and he asked her to keep talking so he could masturbate to her voice.  It was an incident so befuddling to me that I almost couldn’t process it in the moment.  I know I held her, but I don’t think at the time I could truly understand how it made her feel.  However, I did know at the moment that something was wrong.  Something was fundamentally wrong in the world.  This was not the first time she had experienced something like this.  And it was by far not a rare experience for women in general.

kate-nash-quote-feminismFeminism has come far, fighting a lot of the big and obvious things that have been suppressing women in our society, but the undercurrent of misogyny remains.  I realized the day after that night time phone call that there were simply certain things in this world that I would never have to face.  While laws had been passed to protect women, to give them better opportunities for jobs, better pay, a wider variety of careers, there were certain things that I would never feel.  I would never be cat called, and I would never have some creepy person calling me in the middle of the night using me for purposes of masturbation, and I would never have a guy honk at me because I of the clothes I was wearing.  It would be easy to be glib here and say as guys we would love all these things, but it’s a position of privilege to feel this way because I could enjoy the fantasy and then once it’s over I would go back to being a man.  Someone who isn’t judged based on the most superficial qualities about myself.  No one would really question my morals for wanting to be sexy or liking sex.  No one would criticize me if I wanted to be more modest.  I would never have to deal with a date who seemed nice, but felt that if he was going to pay for dinner I had to put out.  That he had a right to my body at a certain point, and that being physically weaker I might not be able to fight him off.  I would never have to face the humiliation afterward when my body, when my very personhood was violated and reported the rape that so many women have faced by having the finger pointed at me.  What was I wearing?  Did I have any alcohol?  Did I lead him on?  Did I invite him into my home?  None of these things are permission for rape.  And so like so many women I might also make the decision to not say anything.  Just suck it up and move on so as not to invite criticism and judgment, and possible even more violence at the hands of the person who raped me.

traditionThese incidents are not rare.  They are not spread out sparsely across the multitude of women.  They are common, there is no hiding from them, they happen every day.  It is the totality of all these things a woman has to face.  This oppression and disregard is sometimes more obvious and sometimes less so, but they are ever present.  Is it any wonder that many women begin to think the worst of men?  Find it hard to trust them?  Find it hard to trust themselves when it comes to even telling one of the good ones from the bad ones.  At times I have been one of those men who complained about women not appreciating a nice guy.  I was wrong to do so, because even if I am nice, given what so many women have gone through, my compassion should always have been at the fore.  And if all this isn’t sad enough, it’s important to remember that this is one of the countries where women can consider themselves having it good compared to many places.

Look, I’m not blind that there are issues that negatively impact men as well, but the issues men face aren’t even close.  I also find that as we actually truly start to value those things that we consider feminine those culturally narrow definitions of masculinity also begin to fade.  While I may not know yet whether I am the feminist I want to be, I know that it’s the fight for equality is everybody’s responsibility and that it lifts us all to a better position morally, ethically, and spiritually.  The only way for everyone to have power is through equality.  Power combined with inequality means that someone is losing.  And women have been losing for far too long.

Why wouldn’t we all be liberal?

An article I came across the other day is one related to a common trope out there about universities being bastions for liberal indoctrination of students because of how liberal all the professors are.  In this article Fox News correspondent Jesse Watters (A contributor to the O’Reilly Factor) went to the campus of Cornell to try and talk to students about how much they were indoctrinated after they found out that 96% of the faculty at Cornell have donated to the Democratic Party for this upcoming election.  Mr. Watters was then asked to leave campus by the public relations person on campus and of course this led to the obvious conclusion by Bill and Jesse that Cornell wants to hide their nefarious activities of brainwashing students into their liberal agenda.

One thing that has always bothered me is that by being educated about something this implies that I’m being indoctrinated or brainwashed into a certain set of beliefs, rather than using my own mind to reach conclusions based on those things that I’ve learned.  While it is true that if I am only taught a certain set of facts or incorrect facts then I may reach the wrong conclusion, but what I want to focus on is the real reason why a well-educated person is likely to support liberal principles.

So there is much of this story that is ridiculous so we are going to have to ignore a few things to try and take it seriously:

  • Ignore the fact that both Jesse Watters and Bill O’Reilly graduated from liberal arts colleges for their undergrad and that Bill O’Reilly graduated from Harvard. Places with a lot of liberal faculty.  And I know in the past there were more Republican faculty, but in the past the Republicans are not quite like the ones we have today.  But somehow Jesse and Bill escaped these liberal indoctrination factories themselves. Lord knows how.
  • Ignore the fact that many of those Democratic supporters likely teach subjects like math or chemistry which can hardly be considered political subjects.
  • Ignore the fact that most academic degrees really don’t have a political bend to them at all. If you are concerned about diversity of viewpoints then at best you want to have that in subjects like economics, or political science.  And this could very well be the case at Cornell.
  • Ignore the fact that most indoctrination is done when the child is young and is done by parents and four years of college is unlikely to change their mind if they have been indoctrinated well into a particular philosophy
  • Let’s ignore the fact that FOX news has no problems indoctrinating their viewership with only one particular viewpoint and merely calls that viewpoint fair and balanced, when it is in fact not.

So let’s first try to understand what liberal means.  The philosophy of liberalism as defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary as:

A political philosophy based on belief in progress, the essential goodness of the human race, and the autonomy of the individual and standing for the protection of political and civil liberties; specifically :  such a philosophy that considers government as a crucial instrument for amelioration of social inequities (as those involving race, gender, or class)

With this philosophy, individual autonomy is valued and this is not unlike an important tenet that Republicans often talk about which is personal responsibility (which I recently wrote about).  Liberalism also holds that government is a crucial instrument for amelioration of social inequity.  I would argue that many Republicans are not against equality, they simply believe that we already have it, and that the only reason certain minorities, classes, genders, etc, aren’t doing well is through their own lack of personal responsibility.  And is equality counter to capitalistic principles?  Not necessarily.  Provided equality refers to equal opportunity, then everyone has an equal opportunity to compete in the market place.  So we can perhaps argue about the specifics about where inequality lies or whether we have it or we don’t, but it would seem that equality its is a goal of most people regardless of party affiliation.

Although many evangelicals would disagree, believing in the essential goodness of the human race is something that at least many more moderate Republicans could get on board with.  Believing in the goodness of the human race is a matter of expectations.  I expect people to be generally good and by holding that expectation people generally are good, or at the very least my own well-being is enhanced by focusing on the good and life (and if more people had improved feelings of well-being it would certainly be a better place).  Ask anybody who wants to give you advice on how to reach your goals and they will say things like “Believe in yourself, believe you can do it, aim high” etc.  So we clearly agree that expectations make a big difference in our achievements.  Thus we should both see no harm in believing in goodness if we want the world to be a better place.  So with the exception of the government role in bringing about equality, what specifically about being liberal are Republicans actually objecting to?  Are any of these qualities specifically bad principles to live by?

Now Bill O’Reilly got his Ph.D. so he must at least know that the professors, like him, had to do a dissertation; a dissertation in which they had to have some sort of hypothesis, and present evidence to support that hypothesis.  But one also has to review prior research that does not support one’s assertion, present it, and critique why you feel such evidence might not be relevant to your specific study.   So why is it bad for professors to hold a philosophy that stresses the importance of researching answers to the questions you have, thinking critically about evidence that is contrary to one’s own beliefs or assertions, and exposing one’s self to ideas that are different from your own?

So how could such people not support the Democratic Party when most of the Republican platform is simply counter to reality through a detailed analysis of evidence.

  • Anthropogenic climate change is real
  • Banning abortions doesn’t reduce abortions
  • Tuitions costs are very high and many of our young people start out with massive debt
  • Money is corrupting the political process
  • There is racial and gender inequality still
  • Less people die by terrorism than by guns yet people fear the former more than the latter
  • The war on drugs is a failure
  • We have a higher percentage of our people incarcerated than any other nation
  • We have huge educational inequality
  • We live in a pluralistic society and one religion cannot dominate, and the first amendment prohibits it from entering government
  • We have growing income inequality and a shrinking middle class
  • Revenue from big business represents a much smaller portion of the total federal revenue than it did during our most prosperous times as a nation
  • We spend more on our military budget than the next 8 nations combined.

So I’m not sure what Jesse Watters and Bill O’Reilly expect out of highly educated people who are trained to do careful analysis of both sides of an issue.  I am much more surprised when I meet a professor who isn’t a Democrat today.  And if faculty used to be a much better mix of Republicans and Democrats in the past, then maybe it’s also worth asking the question, if the shift towards the democratic party by faculty isn’t the product of indoctrination, but rather a reaction to a party that has simply become grounded in beliefs and rhetoric over scientific and historical evidence.  If a large portion of very educated people seem to think a different way than I do, then to deride and quickly dismiss such a group would only be to my folly.  Maybe I should instead listen and at least carefully consider what they have to say and why they think as they do.

The Pope is a Great Guy, but…

Of course if you are in the U.S. you know that life is all a buzz because the Pope is here.  Democrats are happy, Republicans are mad, life can’t get better for us liberals right?

Now don’t get me wrong…I think this pope is miles ahead of popes in the past and I really love his positive messages about doing something about climate change, helping refugees, and taking care of the poor. But….

On the topic of climate change, there this group, let’s call them a hell of a lot of scientists across numerous scientific disciplines who have been saying we need to do something about climate change.  But if the Pope says, then we better start listening.

There are a large group of people who feel great compassion for the poor and already believe we should be helping them.  The Pope says we should help them and so now we better start listening.

There are a lot of people who think we need to deal with the humanitarian crisis in Syria better.  The Pope has made it clear we must help, so now we better start listening.

And look, I get it to a certain point, because there is a large portion of this country who only start to take things seriously when it is said by religious authority, but that doesn’t mean we should really be happy about it.

Secular humanists and those that value the scientific method as the best way to try and understand how the universe works are years ahead of the church on these kinds of issues and yet nothing can be done about it until the Pope says to do something about it?

But here is the thing, the Pope is right, but there is nothing about his religion beliefs that are germane to the issues he speaks of.  Helping the poor is a matter of acting out of our natural capacity to feel empathy, it speaks to equality, and human rights.  There is nothing divine about it.  Doing something about climate change has nothing to do with the story of Jesus Christ.  Once again it is being proactive about reducing suffering and listening to what 1000’s of scientists are saying who have spent years and years researching changes to our environment.  If there was no Pope and no God this would all still be the right thing to do, because why let people suffer?

So I’m happy that the Pope is saying all these things, but there are many among you have been saying these things all along.  Intelligent and compassionate people.  They aren’t called the Pope but maybe they are worth listening to as well. To me it’s a bit sad that we have to look to a man who says many things other have said all along, but just because he is the Pope it becomes relevant.

It is science alone that can solve the problems of hunger and poverty, of insanitation and illiteracy, of superstition and deadening custom and tradition, of vast resources running to waste, of a rich country inhabited by starving people… Who indeed could afford to ignore science today? At every turn we have to seek its aid … the future belongs to science and those who make friends with science. – Jawaharlal Nehru – 1961

What Makes A Good Human?: Humility

It is with pride that I introduce the next important quality to being a good human.  Well not too much pride.  I mean I could be wrong.  This is all just my opinion after all.  Anyway it’s humility.  Out of all the seven deadly sins, the one considered the worst and the one in which all others can stem from, it is pride.  It was pride that caused Lucifer’s fall into Hell in the Bible.  Pride, ego, conceit, whichever turn you prefer to use all of these are ultimately harmful to an individual and society.  When the self, or when a group puts themselves above others, saying they are better, failing to notice the achievements of others, and excessively admires themselves this is a recipe for disaster.  A lack of empathy, narcissism, bullying, oppression all stem from conceit.  Humility is the cure for this disease.

Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.” – Mark 9:35

Humility in practice can be difficult to achieve, however.  For instance, we know that having a positive self-esteem can be beneficial for increased happiness and confidence.  So isn’t having some pride important?  Should I not be proud of my accomplishments?  And what about the other end of the spectrum?  Should I go around saying “I’m not worthy, I’m but a speck of dust at the bottom of your shoe, I shall default to your wisdom, intelligence, and might?”  This is not humility either.  It’s either not genuine, or simply fear.  Humility is not submission.  Humility does not ask us to put ourselves beneath others, only to consider the possibility.  Anyone we meet regardless of age, status, race, gender, etc., may have something to teach us. They may be doing something in a better way that we are not.  They may have a piece of wisdom about something that we do not have.  It asks to consider the possibility that we may enjoy a privilege that they do not and to understand that should that privilege be taken away, we may be no better than anybody else. Humility asks to accept the fact that we may be different but no better or worse and thus is a seed for equality.

“When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with the humble is wisdom.” – Proverbs 11:2

Humility is challenging to master because of its subtlety.  It does not eliminate pride, but it tempers pride.  There’s a difference between telling someone you are a good teacher, and that you are the best teacher.  This is why “excessive” admiration of self is included in the definition of pride.  So you may become an expert in something, but you can admit that someone might know more.  You can admit that you might not know everything.  You can admit that you might have been wrong about something.  Humility doesn’t prevent us from being confident and proud of our accomplishments but it simply reminds us that we are far from perfect, that we can still grow and learn.  Humility feeds into curiosity in this way, and then curiosity can feed back into humility.  As we continue to learn new things we may realize we didn’t know as much as we thought we did, thus humbling us.

The servants of the Most Merciful are those who walk upon the earth in humility, and when the ignorant address them, they say words of peace. – Surah Al-Furqan 25:63

Humility is probably one of the central tenets of every major religion; speaking to the dangers of pride and the importance of being humble before others and before God.  I feel that one of positive aspects of God is to be a constant reminder that there are forces more powerful than yourself in the universe.  As an atheist we can get our feelings of humility through science itself.  One cannot help but feel small in the context of a universe that science has shown to be quite large and magnificent.  We know we are mostly helpless against major disasters like hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, and volcanoes.  We know we are the product of evolution, one of many animals and plants on this planet and that we must share it.  Evolution teaches us that we are specially adapted to our environment, but so is every other species and thus we have no more right to life than any other. Our actions impact others and ourselves, and we must be careful not to have too much conceit as a species lest we bring about the end to our own existence or the existence of other species.  Science by its very nature is humble, because it is constantly skeptical, constantly asking questions, constantly self-corrects as it moves forward.  It can never be too big for its britches because it usually isn’t long before someone comes along and improves, refines, or disproves an idea already established.  And this is why those who have fundamental religious views can never truly be humble, because if you are in position that you are so certain that you are correct that no other well-evidenced idea has the ability to change your mind then humility is not one of your strong suits.  Humility is also accepting the possibility that you might be wrong, perhaps even about some very important things you believe in.

Be humble, be harmless,
Have no pretension,
Be upright, forbearing;
Serve your teacher in true obedience,
Keeping the mind and body in cleanness,
Tranquil, steadfast, master of ego,
Standing apart from the things of the senses,
Free from self;
Aware of the weakness in mortal nature. 

-Bhagavad Gita

Another important aspect of humility comes about in the aspect of love.  For most of us we have our strengths and weakness, but when entering into a relationship it is easy to put our defenses up, to make positive impressions, and to be our best self.  This is a difficult illusion to keep up, and some are better than others.  We can fearful of exposing our weaknesses and faults.  However, if we really want someone to love us for who we are, we must be genuine.  Humility tears down the walls of conceit and gives way to revealing our vulnerability.  This is often the scariest part of any relationship because when someone sees your vulnerability they can exploit it and really hurt you.  Humility is there to remind you that neither you or the person you love is perfect. And for someone to truly love you for who you are, such humble exposure to each other is, I believe, a necessary part of a long lasting, loving relationship.

It is humility that exalts one and favors him against his friends. – Kipsigis Proverb (Kenya)

Can one be too humble? Yes.  There are times when at least the appearance of confidence, and/or decisiveness is important.  There are times when you may have to take charge.  There are times when you are the smartest or most capable person in the room.  Being humble to the point where your self-esteem is so negatively impacted that you fail to recognize your own accomplishments is harmful.  Humility to the extreme can often just seem self-deprecating and is not a strong quality to have. Humility’s role is to always be there, hovering, and keeping us from getting too complacent.  Humility keeps us vigilant.  Humility reminds us we may have more to learn.  Humility helps us love better.  Humility helps us recognize that we are finite and have limits.  The most wonderful thing about humility is that while it erodes pride, ego, conceit, whatever you want to call it, it is at the same time very empowering.  I believe it draws good people to you, and surrounds you with love and friendship; people you can trust. It also empowers by giving you a sense of gratitude for all the blessings, good fortune, and love that you have in your life.  When you are genuinely humble you know that life isn’t always in your hands and that one must take time to be thankful for what you have.  This is something we all need to do more often.

Finding Equilibrium

In a previous blog post I wrote about some of my questions about equality.  Why do some people actively seek it and why don’t others?  Is that they already see the world as equal as it can be?  Do they simply accept a natural order in which things are going to be unequal?  Or are they simply selfish, knowing inside that equality might remove them from a position of privilege?

Whatever the answer to that question is, a recent conversation with a friend, and articles about the inequality that exists in areas of Baltimore, got me thinking a little more about equality.  I started to think about the question:  What does equality even look like?  Is equality a state of perfection that we cannot attain?  Are we caught in idealism and not being practical?  How can equality be achieved, when we are all different?  I think those of us who fight for equality have visions for what that might look like, but have we ever actually seen it?  Does this sense of equality only lie in our hearts and we push in a direction not really thinking about where we end up?  Even though nature often tends towards balanced, it is state rarely reached if ever.  Instead we find most things oscillating about a state of equilibrium.  Many times that oscillation is damped, meaning that while we never quite reach a state of balance, each oscillation is not as wild (or in other words doesn’t take us as far from equilibrium as the preceding oscillation).  Is this perhaps what the fight for equality looks like – swinging back and forth until finally the oscillations about that state of equality or so minute that we can no longer detect the inequality anymore?  In a complex society where one can find many areas in which inequality exists, do we prioritize the most obvious ones first, until other ones seem resolved to the point that new areas of inequality see more important?  Or as a fellow blogger wrote when addressing the issues of vaccines, can we sometimes make the issue worse by continually fighting for something even when the problem doesn’t exist because of the time and energy we have invested into a cause?  A recent Daily Show piece discussed how anti-GMO groups have actually helped large corporations, like Monsanto, to gain more of a stranglehold on the food supply because they are now the only ones with the money to be able to afford all the bureaucracy it takes to get a patent on a genetically modified seed.

It occurred to me that although we might be great at pointing out inequality, how often do we have a conversation about what equality looks like, and does it exist anywhere?  Are there real examples we can use?  Are there any microcosms of the larger society we all want to live in?  It is has only been within the past 30 years or so that a lot of psychological research shifted away from just looking and ailments of the mind and started focusing on the more positive aspects of our humanity, like happiness.  While depression is terrible and it is important to help those with depression out of those states, is learning how not to be depressed that same as knowing how to be happy?  Can we always derive what a good example is, by simply only looking at bad examples?  I believe the answer to that is no.  Growing up with an alcoholic father, I learned about the kind of husband and father I didn’t want to be.  But as I had marriage troubles in my own life it occurred to me I never thought enough about what a good father and husband is supposed to be like.  It required a certain rewiring in my thinking.  When it comes to studying happiness it required asking a set of questions that haven’t been asked before.  What makes people happy?  What kind of behavior to happy people exhibit?  What kinds of societies are happier? These questions are important to ask and science has helped make a lot of progress in the area of happiness.

So while we are all pretty great at point out inequality maybe we should shift our focus to talking about what equality would look like.  Find real world examples.  Analyze how and why those societies work and how they are advantageous to what we already have.  Pointing out inequalities between men and women have value, but let’s have a conversation about what are the positive values we want a human to have, regardless of gender.  Let’s have an idea of where we are going, before we push.  It might even help us get there faster